Nothing says Christmas quite like whacking a festive log until it defecates its insides all over your living room.
Known as Tió de Nadal or "Christmas log," the festive tradition of beating a log—adorned with a painted face, stick legs, and red hat—until it shits edible gifts originates from the Aragon and Catalonia regions of Spain. Marking the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, the ancient practice sees children "feed" their log every night until Christmas Eve, when the beatings commence.
"Towns that relied on agricultural income sources celebrated fire rituals and food was offered to their ancestors," explains Lara Gascón, who grew up celebrating Tió de Nadalin in Andorra. "When the log burnt, it provided assets as valuable as heat and light, and symbolically gave gifts to all family members."
Not many homes have fireplaces anymore, so the tradition evolved to see the log beaten with sticks, rather than being set alight. Today, there are even special log artisans, known as tionaires, whose job is to design and create the tiós.
Pete Icart joined his family tiones business five years ago and makes 400 to 500 tiós for the duration of Tió de Nadal, sometimes beginning work as early as February.
"I'm not able to say precisely how much time I invest in making a tió because the tasks are very diverse," explains Icart. "By February, I start cutting fir trees so that the wood is dry and ready to work with in summer. Once I've scratched the bark of the tree, the rest of the process consists on of polishing, piercing, sticking, varnishing, and painting. Finally, I sew and attach the hat to the tió."
Available at most Catalan Christmas markets, the logs can also be made to order. Icart receives requests for tiós fashioned into superheroes, Japanese comic characters, and tionas: a female version of the traditional male tió.
"From centuries ago, the tió has been a masculine character from Catalonia. My uncle inherited the business from my grandfather," says Icart. "When I told my uncle I wanted to create the tiona, he told me it wouldn't be successful, but I did it anyway. Nowadays we nearly sell the same quantity of tiós as tiona."
From December 8, children are tasked with "feeding" their log by filling its sack with nuts, dried fruit, and even bits of leftover dinner. They must also cover their tió with a blanket to ensure it stays warm and grows strong in the runup to Christmas Eve.
"I think the most exciting part was feeding our tió at school and seeing him grow," remembers Gascón. "We used to believe the log will grow if we fed it properly and the bigger it would become, the better Christmas gifts we would receive. Obviously, there was no such thing as a growing log."
Unbeknownst to Gascón at the time, parents will replace their children's tiós every few days with larger ones, giving the impression that the little log is alive and kicking.
But Christmas Eve is the shit log's real time to shine. Aragonese and Catalan families gather around the red-hatted tió to beat it with sticks. If it has been well fed and looked after, it will poop out treats including dried figs, chocolate figures, toys, and turróns—a nougat-like Catalan sweet. Everything that comes out of the tió is a communal gift, shared by all present.
Rewarding childhood greed by encouraging kids to beat a smiling log until it gives out sugary gifts? If that doesn't encapsulate the true spirit of Christmas, I don't know what does.